By Ikeddy ISIGUZO
THE saddest thing about Charles Chukwuma Soludo's eclectic 3,768-word treatise on how African economies should proceed post-Corona Virus, is that most of those who should read it will not. Even if they read it, they will be putting meaningless politics ahead of economics.
Governance in Africa is extensively unplanned. It does not lend itself to the type of thinking that the Soludo document demands. Governance in Africa is about the next minute, the next meeting, the next trip abroad, the next stashing of the next loot to the next destination, the causation of the next crisis in the next region so that certain advantages are created in the next election.
Africa is exceptional for sitting on ideas. Africa applauds what it does not understand and deepens the ignorance by refusing to study anything that could by any chance lead to a change that can benefit the majority of its people. African leaders wait to be led.
There are few exceptions. They are exceptional, not for the innovativeness of their administration, but because they are leaders in a continent that has acquired a notoriety for leading in all indices that project the condemnation of their peoples to perpetual despondency.
Soludo, renowned Professor of Economics, was even handed in his assessment of the challenges that mire Africa in some of the worst spots that any group should find itself. He knows that leaderships across the continent are busy playing lotto with the present and future of their peoples.
Few debates have issued after his publication of his positions in The Sun. The responses would have been earth-quaking if he had alleged billions of Dollars were missing from government coffers, as he did in January 2015 before the elections in Nigeria. His consolidation of Nigerian banks from over 70 to 25, as CBN Governor remains controversial. He insists that he had planned second phase consolidation would have had the bank on a better footing. He did not get a second term.
He should know Africa better. A combination of corruption and incompetence run rings round concentric circles of conspiracies that draw life from parochial politics of religions and origins. The powers of tribe, tongue, and relics of traditional mysticisms have more ennobled places in African governance than economic thought.
Our African is about attendance at international conferences, shopping abroad, shameless medical tourism that our leaders promote. They are waiting for international travels to regularise for them to resume their round of medical checks. They are about missing Summer. What a year!
Something has to be said for the resilience of our leaders. How did they survive for almost four months without foreign medical checkups? Should we not declare their wellbeing a miracle?
The Corona Virus has hit Africa minimally through providence. Some say our ancestors are not asleep. Elsewhere investments would be made in scientific investigations into why more people did not die in African than Europe, Asia, and the America. The answers would have provided more knowledge about the unexplored advantages of immunities that peoples of African heritage have over other races.
We are waiting for someone else to do it for it. When they do, they domicile the knowledge, we pay for it and spend more decades blaming everyone for under-developing Africa. It is possible than nobody has done more damage to Africa than its leaders in the past 50 years. They engaged in wars against their peoples, their neighbours, looted their countries, and piled up foreign and local debts that generations unborn will pay.
Using Africa's management of the 2014 Ebola, he reminded the continent that Africa was left to sort itself out. He expects Africa to act in like manner with the Corona Virus. There is a difference – Ebola was not pandemic in the nature of Corona Virus. If our leaders were alert, the world’s disinterest with what Africa did with Ebola should have led them to seek African solutions to our challenges.
It sounds trite to say that Africa is in trouble. Probably, what worsens it is a commitment to solving the continent's challenges with minimal intellectual inputs. We abhor knowledge and mock those who raise its importance.
Soludo is calling for planning, strategic management of dwindling resources and investments that could diversify the economy away from the traditional dependence on natural resources, especially oil and gas, in Nigeria’s. There will be no takers on that one. We remember diversification of the economy when oil prices dip. Our insincerity shows in the alacrity with which we discard the idea. Once the economy hums enough to serve the interests of those in power, the future can wait.
The former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria writes about a futile future and vacuous present leaderships that count their continued stay in office as their major achievements. Would they read Soludo? There is a slim chance that they would.
Soludo’s solutions are immersed in many thoughts that are personal to him. Reading through his positions, one feels the ideas racing against each other, against time, and most importantly against the possibilities that others could use them against Africa since its leaders would not act.
Like most economists that peruse statistics and interpret them through the prisms of classical economic predictions, Soludo mostly misread Africa’s strengths and failed to emphasise them. Africa continues to defy containerisation in foreign ideas that rule global economics.
When he prescribed an end to lockdowns which he said succeeded largely in the West because their governments have systems that sustained the welfares they disbursed, he ended at wondering how Africans went for weeks without similar government interventions, thought he acknowledged that African governments neither had the resources nor the systems to create welfare packages for their people.
Africans survive on traditional socio-economic practices that statistics ignore. The kinship ties, social nets, and the resurgence of barter are unrecognised economic activities that sustain those on the fringes of governments’ attention.
He came close to a recognition of the African side of the equation with his suggested alternative to the lockdown - stay at home if you can, or smartly go to work if you must. Africans have had to make most decisions about themselves with the absence of governance and leadership.
Soludo and his fellow economists should integrate African situations and solutions into planning for Africans. Unfortunately, disruptive government policies hamper the growth of native African practices that form the only economy most of these folks know. In other places they would hail as creative co-operatives practices and imported into African as international best practices. A line up of experts with their local collaborators use the imported disruption to further drain Africa of chances of making any meaningful progress.
His experience in governments would easily tell Soludo that he latest contributing ideas that could end up as citations in scholarly papers by scholars for scholars. Who in which governments would translate those ideas in actions? How long would it take for the “position paper” to meander through gatekeepers like Chiefs of Staff to the attention of Presidents?
What happened to the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy, NEEDS? It encapsulated Soludo’s thoughts on long-term national planning while he served as Chief Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo. When the military discarded the national development plans of the earlier years of Nigeria, they replaced it with nothing.
The NEEDS document had versions for the States and Local Governments, State Economic Emancipation Development Strategy, SEEDS, and Local Economic Emancipation Development Strategy, LEEDS documents. Did they survive the administrations that initiated them? Why are African governments unable to plan beyond elections as Soludo noted? Were governments he advised different in seeing governance as more important than elections?
Curiously, they were launched at the tail-end of the Obasanjo administration. They had no chance of being used by later administrations. Soludo rarely mentions those development ideas these days.
What is left is to wait for how Soludo would use his own ideas when he becomes Governor of Anambra State. If he is able to push these ideas to actions that would pull Anambra State from its doldrums shielded in chicanery that many cheer, Anambra can become the nursery of the new Africa of Soludo’s dreams.